Federal investigators arrived on the Kenai Peninsula Monday to examine the scene of a Sunday plane crash in Soldotna. They plan to pore over evidence at the crash site for the next week before moving their operation back to Washington, DC. One local pilot and nine passengers who were visiting from Greenville, South Carolina all were killed after the plane crashed and caught fire late Sunday morning.
Milton and Kimberly Antonakos and their children Olivia, Mills and Anastacia, along with Chris and Stacey McManus and their two children Connor and Meghan were heading out for a bear viewing trip on the Alaska Peninsula. Rediske Air owner Walter Rediske was the pilot for the day. Something went wrong a little after 11 a.m.
National Transportation Safety Board Member Earl Weener said it’s likely the plane crashed on take-off, but they aren’t sure how high it may have gotten.
“The way the wreckage is laying will probably give the investigators a better idea of what may have happened just prior to impact. The engine is intact, the propellers are bent, we have a propulsion specialist who is currently looking at that to understand about how much power the engine may have been producing,” he said.
An NTSB “Go-Team” arrived in Soldotna Monday to get a look at the damage. Lead investigator Dan Bower said each member of the team will look into specific aspects of the crash.
“Specialists looking at the power plants and they will be examining specifically the engines. Specialists looking at the air worthiness, examining the structures and the systems, and specialists here examining the aircraft operations and operation of the company,” he said.
Weener said investigators also will look into the amount of weight that was on the plane and check weather conditions for that Sunday morning. According to the National Weather Service, conditions at the time of the crash were cloudy with a temperature of 55 degrees. Winds were out of the west at about 5 miles per hour and there was visibility of about 10 miles.
The fact that the de Havillan DHC-3 Otter was not required to have a voice recorder or in-flight data recorder on board will prove to be a challenge. Investigators will not be able to pick up clues from those, but Weener said they did find five cell phones in the wreckage. The NTSB lab in Washington, DC might be able to pull information off of them.
Weener said investigators are on the scene of about 1,500 general aviation accidents like the one in Soldotna each year.
“With 1,500 accidents a year, you see the same thing repeating itself often. A loss-of-control accident, and this may be what that turns out to be, is really an accident type that reoccurs too often,” he said.
He said investigators will likely start from the understanding that the crash was a “loss of control” accident and look for evidence to prove or disprove that idea. A preliminary report is not expected for another 30 days.